Coronavirus has wreaked major havoc across the UK and forced us to be more digital than ever. Digitally, Wales has fared well in some places but worse in others with this. Some parts of the country have solid access to the internet, whereas others are struggling. What’s been happening?
An increase in usage since lockdown
According to the site Uswitch, internet users in the country have spent almost a third more of their time on the internet than before the lockdown.
Before the lockdown, households were spending an average of 32 hours a week online, the bulk of this time being on social media.
That all changed with the lockdown and rose to 41 hours, with working from home elbowing social media out of the way as the primary reason for this.
Rural communities feel isolated
While some are jumping online and spending all the time in the world, others, however, are having a hard time broadband-wise.
In some parts of Wales, citizens have to go hiking up a hill to access a 4G signal.
Even local councillors in some parts have had trouble with broadband. Rather than attend video calls via webcam, they’ve had to dial into them because of the internet issues.
Slow broadband speeds, a lack of 4G or a limited broadband signal – or all of these issues — have left people in rural communities feeling cut off during the pandemic. One such place is Pandy in Wrexham, where some residents don’t even have terrestrial TV — or they have it, but don’t get a TV signal or a radio one, which adds to the sense of isolation.
Now there have been calls for a better broadband signal. If the communities get it, they may want to jump online to browse the best broadband deals and update their broadband. Their location will play a big factor in which ones they can choose, however.
As these communities have found out to their cost, location can play a part in the speed of their broadband. Not only that, some service providers may not operate in their area.
Browsing a comparison site will help them to make decisions regarding this and, of course, to find the best deal and save them some money, too.
Help on the way
The good news is that help is on the way for Wales’s rural communities.
Currently, broadband is not devolved, so the UK Government and the Welsh Government have teamed up to improve the broadband situation for Welsh rural communities.
The UK Government runs the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme, which offers people funding to help them cover the upfront costs of installing connections that can handle a gigabit.
The funding comes in the form of vouchers. The Welsh Government has agreed to work with the UK Government to ‘top up’ the vouchers so that double the funding is available. That means £7 000 for small business and £3 000 for households through each voucher.
Now both governments are urging businesses and households to apply and make the most of the vouchers to future-proof their internet connections. Not only this, but to reap the economic and social benefits of being up to date with advanced technology.
The topography of Wales makes it more difficult to roll out the internet infrastructure in rural communities. The vouchers will help to subside the costs of building it out and encourage service providers to build in these areas.
The lockdown has been especially hard on rural communities in Wales, who are feeling less connected to the rest of the UK – and maybe the world — than ever. Fortunately, help is on the horizon now. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before they’re enjoying faster connections and all the benefits the internet brings.